Thirty go players representing the best of China, Chinese Taipei, Europe, North America, Japan, and Korea are preparing to compete with each other and rub shoulders with some of the world’s best bridge, chess, draughts, and xiangqi players at the fourth SportAccord World Mind Games in Beijing. Counting all five disciplines, there will be 150 contestants, drawn from nearly forty countries and territories on six continents. The action will start on December 11 and end on December 17.
In go at the past three SportAccord World Mind Games, Korean players dominated the men’s competition, Chinese players dominated the women’s competition, and Chinese and Korean pairs and teams divided the top honors in mixed competition. This year the Chinese men’s team will be thirsting to add a gold medal to the gold won by China’s mixed team in 2011, which was largely a men’s event. Their chances appear good; the Korean team will be handicapped by the absence of their leading player Park Jeonghwan, who was injured in a traffic accident shortly before his scheduled departure for Beijing.
Turning to the other disciplines, not surprisingly, Chinese players have also dominated the xiangqi competition in previous years, and Chinese women have demonstrated considerable prowess at bridge and chess. What is surprising is that Chinese women have been making striking progress in draughts as well, and are currently approaching the top level in that game. Just how close they are will be seen during a week of rapid, blitz, and super-blitz competition on the international standard 10 x 10 board. In men’s draughts competition, two of the players to watch will be from Africa: Cameroon’s Jean Marc Ndjofang, who will challenge Aleksandr Georgiev for the world championship next month, and the Ivory Coast’s N’cho Joel Atse, last year’s blitz sensation. Devotees of the 8 x 8 game will also get a chance to see several world champions in action as this form of draughts returns to the men’s competition.
At a press conference held on December 10, no one ventured to predict the outcome of this year’s mind games, but go ambassador Lee Hajin reminisced about her bronze medal at the World Mind Sports Games in 2008, and her subsequent university career. ‘The concentration and discipline I gained from go worked for my other studies,’ she said, ‘and I graduated at the head of my class.’
Viktoriia Motrichko, a draughts player and ambassador from the Ukraine, said ‘I consider myself an emotional person, and the emotions I feel here are all good.’
Women’s chess champion Hou Yifan said, ‘This fast-paced tournament is interesting for the spectators and it favors my style of play.’
Tang Sinan, a young Chinese xiangqi player said, ‘The SportAccord World Mind games are a super-platform for us to demonstrate our xiangqi skills. I hope all the publicity will encourage more people to get interested in the game.’
Bridge ambassador Fulvio Fantoni, a member of the crack Monaco team, said ‘When I visited the schools in Beijing during this event last year I was touched by the students’ passion and enthusiasm. It took me back to my own youth, when I felt that way too.’
Gianarrigo Rona, president of the World Bridge Federation, echoed his sentiments by saying ‘In my opinion, the enthusiasm that Beijing schoolchildren are showing for mind games is the real measure of the SportAccord’s success.’
– James Davies